The Positive Within the Nightmare that was Operation Brothers Keeper

Three years ago today, the unthinkable happened. Three years ago today, my life and the lives of so many others changed in ways that we could have never imagined. Naftali Frankel, Gilad Shaer, and Eyal Yifrah were kidnapped and brutally murdered by Hamas terrorists. These teenagers committed the grave crime of being Jewish.

The kidnapping took place from a bus stop outside the Gush Etzion town of Alon Shvut. This bus stop was right across the street from the military base that myself and my unit were stationed at. This was the start of the eighteen day operation called “Operation Brothers Keeper”.

This operation quickly took it’s toll on us, both mentally and physically. As soldiers we train for combat, we train for war, but no one could have ever prepared us for this. As a unit we felt responsible for what had happened, and we could feel the weight of Israel and the Jewish world on our shoulders. We had to find them. We had to bring them home to their families. There was no other choice.

Eighteen days later, our worst fears came true.  Along with civilian volunteers, we discovered the bodies of Naftali, Gilad, and Eyal – thrown like garbage into a field a couple miles up the road. Our worlds came crashing down in an instant. How did this happen? Were we really at fault? What could we have done differently? How will we look the families in the eye? Three years later, I am still trying to come to terms with it all.

The ONLY thing that got us through those tough days and weeks; the ONLY thing that got us through the pain, anger, and tragedy – was the support that we felt from around the world. The letters, food packages, the visitors from all walks of life. Orthodox Jews, secular Jews, and everyone in between. Jews who leaned to the far left and Jews who leaned to the far right. For those few weeks, none of that stuff mattered. We were Jews. We were supporters of Israel. We were family. We needed to lean on each other for strength and support, so that is what we did. It was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. The unity, the pride – it was all so real. It kept us soldiers from completely losing our minds. We knew we were a part of something so much bigger then ourselves.

Unfortunately, we live in a world today where even as Jews, as supporters of Israel – we are so divided. We focus so much on our differences and far to little on our common goals and desires. How amazing would it be if we could bring back to life the unity and pride of those few weeks in 2014? Let’s have real pride in our homeland, our people, and our religion – regardless of the imperfections. Let’s let Israel be the one thing that unites us. Do we not have enough enemies?

This can’t happen overnight, but if everyone takes it upon themselves to do just a little bit more. If everyone takes it upon themselves to have just a little bit more pride, to stretch out a hand to their neighbor – we can make a real difference. There is no better way to honor the memories of our brothers who were taken from us.

In the words of Rachelle Frankel, the mother of Naftali, and one of the most amazing people I have ever met: “I don’t need the world to remember my son Naftali. That will be the job of his family and friends. But, what I do want is for the world to remember how the global community behaved during those eighteen days of uncertainty, and to always remember the power we have as a people when we choose unity over division.”

Do you have it in you?

May the memories of Naftali, Gilad, and Eyal be a blessing for all eternity.

About the Author
At the age of nineteen, Leibel Mangel left his home and family in Cincinnati, Ohio to enlist in the Israel Defense Forces as a lone soldier. As the son of a Rabbi and the grandson of one of the youngest survivors of Auschwitz - serving in the IDF was not a matter of if, but rather when. Leibel served as a machine gunner in the Kfir Brigade, where he took part in numerous high profile anti-terror operations including the tragic discovery of the bodies of Gil-Ad Shaer, Naftali Fraenkel, and Eyal Yifrah who were kidnapped from Gush Etzion in 2014. Leibel has used his story and experiences to continue his service by fighting for Israel in both mainstream and social media and in cities throughout the country. Leibel is also the recipient of a 2017 Jewish People's Choice Award and 2019 Hometown Hero Award.
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